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Regional Comparison

The Big Cities Project




This section summarises the indicators we have updated in this year’s Social Report. It also compares outcomes from the mid-1980s with recent outcomes and highlights changes within those periods for the population as a whole and for different population subgroups.

Changes in social wellbeing over time

Social wellbeing in New Zealand continues to improve

We have new data for 25 of the 42 indicators used in this year’s report. The patterns of change shown by the updated indicators broadly reflect the trends shown in The Social Report 2005. The Health indicators, with the exception of suicide, have improved. Despite a small drop in participation in tertiary education (largely due to a decline in participation in certificate level courses), the Knowledge and Skills outcomes were generally better. The Paid Work indicators have all improved. In the Economic Standard of Living domain, market income per person has gone up. While there was little change in the proportion of the population with low living standards, there was an increase in the prevalence of severe hardship.

In the Civil and Political Rights domain, changes were mixed. Voter turnout in the 2005 general election increased against a long-term downward trend, and more women were elected to Parliament. Turnout in the 2004 local authority elections declined, and a similar proportion of women as previously were elected to local authorities. People perceived there was less discrimination against most groups. New Zealand continues to be a world leader in terms of perceived corruption. In the Cultural Identity domain, we added Prime Television and Māori Television to the local content programming on New Zealand television indicator. As Prime screens low levels of local content, the proportion of local content dropped between 2004 and 2005. In the Physical Environment domain, both the air and drinking water quality indicators have improved. In the Safety domain, intentional injury child mortality improved, road deaths declined but road injuries went up. The telephone access and the contact with family/friends indicators in the Social Connectedness domain remained similar to previous measures, but internet access increased substantially.

Most aspects of wellbeing have improved since the 1980s but some economic outcomes have not recovered to mid-1980s levels

In previous reports we have compared recent outcomes with those of the mid-1990s. This year we are looking back over 20 years to compare recent outcomes with those from before most of the restructuring and reforms of the 1980s and early-1990s took place.

Outcomes stagnated or even declined across a number of domains in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Since then, outcomes have overtaken the mid-1980s levels in most of the domains we monitor, including Health, Knowledge and Skills, Paid Work and Safety. However, three of the five outcomes for which we have data in the Economic Standard of Living domain have not recovered to mid-1980s levels. Outcomes in the Civil and Political Rights domain are mixed.

Figure CO1 Changes in social wellbeing, 1985–1987 to 2003–2005

Pie chart showing changes in social wellbeing, 1985–1987 to 2003–2005.

Interpreting "Changes in social wellbeing, 1985–1987 to 2003–2005"

The circle Conclusion diagram circle. represents average performance against each indicator between 1985 and 1987, and the spokes Conclusion diagram spoke. represent the most recent performance, where possible averaged over the most recent three years (to smooth fluctuations). Where a spoke falls outside the circle, this means outcomes have improved since the mid-1980s; the further from the circle, the greater the improvement. Where a spoke falls inside the circle, outcomes in this area have deteriorated since the mid-1980s; the further the spoke is from the circle the more pronounced this effect. There are, however, some important limitations on this style of presentation. In particular, we cannot directly compare the size of changes for different indicators. The absence of trend data for some indicators also means we can show only 18 of the 42 indicators used in The Social Report 2006.

Health outcomes have generally improved since the mid-1980s

From 1985–1987 to 2003–2005, life expectancy at birth increased by 6.4 years for males and 4.6 years for females. Suicide rates worsened in the late-1980s but began to improve towards the end of the 1990s. The 2003 suicide rate was the same as the 1986 rate of 11.5 per 100,000 population. Cigarette smoking has dropped by 7 percentage points from 30 percent in 1986. Only the obesity outcomes have deteriorated. Reflecting changes in diet and physical activity, obesity doubled from 10 to 20 percent between 1989 and 2003 for adult men. Obesity almost doubled for adult women, increasing from 13 to 22 percent over the same period.

Knowledge and Skills outcomes are also considerably better now

Since the mid-1980s there have been substantial increases in participation in early childhood and tertiary education and more school leavers have higher qualifications. The "apparent" early childhood education participation rate was 98 percent for 3 year olds and 103 percent for 4 year olds in 2005 compared with 43 percent and 73 percent respectively in 1986. Much of this growth was in the five years between 1986 and 1991, with slower growth in the subsequent years. In 1986, 4 percent of the population aged 15 years and over was enrolled in public tertiary education institutions, compared to 10 percent in July 2004 and 9 percent in July 2005.

The proportion of school leavers with higher qualifications has increased substantially from 47 percent in 1986 to 69 percent in 2004. Most of this increase occurred in the late-1980s, with the level fluctuating between 63 percent and 69 percent since 1990. The greater availability of employment and training opportunities for young people without higher qualifications may explain some of the lack of continued growth in this area.

Paid Work outcomes are also more favourable

The unemployment rate increased between the late-1980s and early-1990s, peaking at 10.4 percent in 1992. It has declined steadily since 1998. In 2005, 3.7 percent of the labour force was unemployed compared with 4.1 percent in 1986. In 2005, the proportion of unemployed people who had been unemployed for more than six months was just under that recorded in 1986 (23 percent) and substantially lower than the peak of 53 percent in 1992.

Employment rates fell sharply between 1986 and 1992. Apart from declines during the economic downturn in 1997 and 1998, the rate has been rising since 1992. The rate in 2005 was 74.6 percent, compared with 72.3 percent in 1986. The part-time employment rate increased throughout the period, from 11.9 percent in 1986 to 15.9 percent in 2005.

Three of the Economic Standard of Living outcomes are worse now than in the mid-1980s

The market income per person, income inequality, population with low incomes, and housing affordability indicators all deteriorated between the late-1980s and early-1990s. However, despite improvements since then, income inequality, population with low incomes, and housing affordability are still worse than they were in the mid-1980s. Market income per person is well above mid-1980s levels and household crowding improved steadily between 1986 and 2001.93

In the year to March 2005, market income per person was $28,998 in constant 1995/1996 dollars compared with $22,735 in 1988. After growing slowly between 1988 and 1990, market income per person fell sharply between 1990 and 1992. Since then it has been increasing steadily, reflecting labour productivity gains, increasing labour force participation and declining unemployment.

Income inequality has increased since 1988; the equivalised disposable income of a household at the 80th percentile was 2.8 times that of a household at the 20th percentile in 2004, compared with 2.4 times in 1988. Most of the observed increase in income inequality has been due to a larger overall rise in incomes for those in the top 20 percent of incomes than for those in the bottom 20 percent of incomes. Since 1988, incomes of those in the bottom 20 percent of all incomes have increased only a little, once adjustments for inflation are made, whereas those in the top 20 percent of incomes have climbed by more than a third.

The proportion of the population with low incomes was substantially higher in 2004 than in 1988. In that year, 12 percent of the population was living below the 60 percent threshold compared with 19 percent in 2004. The proportion of the population with low incomes increased sharply in the early-1990s, in part reflecting high rates of unemployment and cuts in the level of social assistance. After reaching a peak in the mid-1990s, the proportion of people with low incomes declined over the latter half of the decade and has continued to improve since then.

There has been a substantial increase in the proportion of households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing since the late-1980s. Between 1988 and 1997 the proportion rose from 11 percent to 25 percent of households, before levelling off at 24 percent in 1998 and 2001 and falling to 22 percent in 2004. The proportion of households in the lowest 20 percent of the equivalised household income distribution spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing rose from 16 percent in 1988 to reach a peak of 49 percent in 1994 before levelling off at 41 to 42 percent over the period 1996–2001. In 2004, this proportion had fallen to 35 percent. While this represents a substantial improvement since the mid-1990s, the proportion of low-income households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing is still over twice as high as it was in 1988.

Changes in the Civil and Political Rights domain are mixed

The number of women elected to Parliament has gone up since the mid-1980s, but voter turnout has declined. In 1984, under the first-past-the-post system, 13 percent of the Members of Parliament were women. This climbed sharply to 29 percent in the first mixed-member-proportional election held in 1996. Following fluctuations in the subsequent two elections, women now make up 32 percent of the 121 MPs. The percentage of women on local boards and councils increased from 18 percent in 1986 to 30 percent in 1995, and remained at this level in 2004.

Voter turnout of the eligible population in the 1984 general election was 89 percent. Following falls in all subsequent elections, reaching a low point of 73 percent in 2002, turnout recovered to 77 percent in 2005. A major restructuring of local government in 1989 was initially accompanied by a noticeable increase in voter turnout at the local authority elections, peaking at 61 percent in 1992. Since then voter turnout has declined steadily, with the exception of the 1998 elections. The 46 percent voter turnout in 2004 was the lowest since 1989 (57 percent).

Outcomes in the Cultural Identity and Safety domains have improved

The proportion of local content screened on New Zealand television channels during prime-time is higher now than it was in 1988. In 2005, local content made up 38 percent of the prime-time schedule compared with 24 percent in 1988.

Deaths and injuries from motor vehicle accidents have fallen substantially since 1986, possibly because of better vehicles and safer roads, as well as the impact of legislation, enforcement and education. Fatalities dropped by 47 percent between then and 2005 and there were 24 percent fewer injuries.